Beetle among autumn leaves

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  • Catalogue text

    With Seitei, the birds and flowers of the Shijō school combined with the new Nihonga manner of the Meiji era. The Ashmolean has two examples of his painting, both in their original frames.

    Seitei excelled in painting images of wildlife, and carp and wisteria is a subject the artist returned to often [for example, carp and wisteria features as the composition for summer in Birds and Flowers of the Four Seasons of 1891 in The National Museum, Warsaw, published in Hirayama Ikuo and Kobayashi Tadashi, eds, Kurakufu kokuritsu bijutsukan, Hizō nihon bijutsu taikan, vol. 10 (Tokyo: Kōdansha, 1993), plate 10]. Though pared down to just the carp and the wisteria, we can imagine the implied setting of a garden pond in spring. The bright blue of the wisteria is the only colour in an otherwise muted, almost monochromatic image. In the small painting of the beetle, Seitei has captured the insect in mid-movement as he rustles across the brightly coloured leaves. His compositions show a restrained use of colour usually with clearly defined focal points. Seitei's ability as a draughtsman, colourist and designer endeared him to a European audience who became familiar with him through works exhibited in Paris (1878), Amsterdam (1883) and Chicago (1893). The scholar Satō Dōshin claims that Seitei’s appeal to Westerners lay in his high level of technical virtuosity and his ability to render his subjects with lifelike energy [see Satō Dōshin's essay ‘Watanabe Shōtei naze Ōbeijin ga konomareta ka', in ibid.. 225-229].

    Seitei studied under Kikuchi Yōsai (1788-1878) and also briefly with Shibata Zeshin, two artists known for their experimentation with long-standing techniques of the Shijō school. Seitei’s search for new means of expression led him to Europe, becoming the first Nihonga painter to study there in 1878.

    In addition to these two paintings, the Ashmolean also counts two cloisonné trays ([EA1994.35] and [EA2000.50]) based on Seitei’s designs among its collection. These are by the renowned Meiji artist Namikawa Sōsuke (1847-1910) who often collaborated with Seitei, capitalising on the popularity of the painter's images.

    In: Katz, Janice, Japanese Paintings in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, with an introductory essay by Oliver Impey (Oxford: Ashmolean Museum, 2003)

Further reading

Katz, Janice, Japanese Paintings in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, with an introductory essay by Oliver Impey (Oxford: Ashmolean Museum, 2003), no. 56 on pp. 194-195, p. 188, illus. p. 194

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